Technology In Your Game - Running RPGs

Technology In Your Game - Running RPGs

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Inside the basement you find the stolen Egyptian  scroll, as well as an iron tablet that looks like   it's got a star chart etched onto its face. I'm going to look at the scroll.  Unless you can read hieroglyphics,  you'll need to take it to an expert   or a library to get it translated. Cool, then what I'm going to do is   take a picture of it and text that picture off  to Dr Whitmore, and then I'm going to run it   through the translator app to see what it says. Um... okay. Well it says where the Temple of   Marthot is located, and that the sacrifice must  be performed when the stars reach alignment.  Speaking of stars, I want to look at this chart. The tablet looks like the heavens as they might   have appeared thousands of years  ago. You'll need to take it to an  

astronomer in order to figure out how to - I'm gonna use the astronomy app on my phone.  Uh... The stars   reach alignment tomorrow night. Honestly, I  thought this was going to take you guys longer.  Cool. Then what I'm going to do is I'm  going to send a text off to Colonel Amat,  

telling him exactly where the temple is, and that  the cult is going to be there tomorrow night with   the kidnapped nurse. Okay...  Damn! 45 minutes! That is a record for solving  a case. Cell phones make this game so easy.  Hello internet. Seth Skorkowsky, and today  I want to talk about modern technology in   tabletop games. Not technology for the players,  like virtual tabletops and dice-roller apps,   but technology that their characters use. One of the comments that I regularly get is  

from Game Masters who find it difficult to run  games where the Player Characters have access to   things like cell phones and the Internet, feeling  that these modern miracles spoil adventures,   making them too easy to overcome. Now this is  usually a comment from Game Masters who have moved   over from a fantasy setting where there was zero  technology, outside of magic that could do those   things, and they're having trouble with settings  like Traveler and Cyberpunk where technology is   just everywhere. Or Call of Cthulhu Game Masters,  who might be used to running the game being set   in the 1920's, but find setting Call of Cthulhu  in the Modern Age just too daunting because cell   phones and the like 'destroy all the good plots.' I disagree with that. But I also understand where   they're coming from. My first encounter with this  was back ages ago, back in college. I was running   a buddy through some Cyberpunk 2020, and most  of us were pretty unfamiliar with cell phones   at the time. But one of my players was familiar  with cell phones, and he undid a huge chunk of   my adventure in mere minutes because he showed me  on his Nokia how he could just check what the call   history was. And since it's things like personal  locks, they were unheard of at the time - they  

didn't have locks on cell phones at the time -  the Player Characters pretty much just bypassed   a big chunk of my adventure in mere seconds. Now most of my general videos like this are   very broad topics, like How to Run Heist,  or Making NPCs - things that are applicable   to a wide array of games. This one, however,  is a bit more niche. It's most commonly seen   in Horror and Mystery adventures. Meaning that  while several games do fit into this - and I'm   gonna try to keep this one general for more than  just a single game - most often this is an issue   that I find with Call of Cthulhu games. And that's  why I almost made this a Call of Cthulhu-specific  

video. But since it is also applicable for  Modern and Sci-Fi games of other systems,   I'm going to go ahead and keep this one General. Modern technology is frequently seen as an anathe   storytelling, thwarting all the good plots.  Whether that be the invention of the radio,  

the telephone, the airplane in days gone  by. And now the Internet and mobile phones   in the current day. Even TV Tropes has a fun  page of classic movies and shows that could   have been solved easily with a cell phone. And that's why in the 90s and early 2000s,   when cell phones were becoming widely available,  screenwriters often fell into the old "I left it   at home," or they conveniently lost signal at  the right time in order for their stories not   to fall apart. And Game Masters, especially  coming from settings that didn't have this   easily accessible technology, they often face  the same issues because they're used to writing   adventures for that previous time period. So now  they feel that all their cool stories are ruined.  However, while some stories are not going  to be possible in the Modern Age with modern   technology - or might not be as easily possible  as they were before the Age the iPhone - many news   stories are possible now. Technology creates just  as many obstacles as it removes for the players.  

So the trick isn't to look at it as what it is  that you can't do, but more about what you can do   now that the players have this technology. First, let's look at the Internet, where you are   now. In addition to porn, cat videos, one-click  shopping, the Internet is a vast collection of   information. A quick Google search can bring  you a ton of information in mere seconds,  

bypassing the need to physically go to the  library in order to learn about dinosaurs.  For whatever reason, a lot of Game Masters  consider doing an Internet search being a   specific and independent skill. In Modern Day  Call of Cthulhu, for example, many Keepers ask   for a Computer Use check if somebody's going  to be searching for something online, which   is silly. This should be a Library Use. After all,  libraries now use computers and not card catalogs.  The Computer Use skill is for things like  programming, writing code, hacking, searching   a database for hidden files or programs, or  restoring a wipe data core - which is completely   different than trying to Google something. That's why Cyberpunk Red gives you a  

+2 to your Library Search skill if  you're using your agent cell phone,   because a library is a database, whether that  be a physical database or an electronic one.  And like how I treat Library Use being used in  an 1920s game, where the characters would have   to physically go to a library or Hall of Records,  I don't make them roll a Skill Check for basic   information. More difficult things I do require  them to make a roll. Because despite what movies   and TV shows say, anyone that's had to seriously  research a subject can tell you is it isn't always   easy to find something. A lot of information might  be locked behind paywalls or passcodes, but a   whole lot of information isn't online at all. Older information, such as Town records prior  

to the 1990s, even if their current records  are available online, most of the old records   have not been digitized yet. So depending  on what the characters need to look up,   they might still need to go to the physical place  and dig through some old archives in the basement,   or some small town courthouse, or maybe in an  off-site warehouse. Or even if those old records   are online now, they're not really going to be  in an easy-to-search format. They might still   require hours and hours of scouring through them  to find the information that the characters want. 

So Game Masters, figure out which information  it is that the Player Characters can get through   just doing a quick online search, and which  information is going to require some time,   money, or having to physically hunt for that  information in a records room somewhere.  Next, if the information that the Player  Characters want is available to the public online,   is that information even reliable? I mean,  let's say in our game we're trying to stop   an alien invasion. So I Google the best way  to battle aliens. I'm gonna find a hundred   thousand websites and forums dedicated to  wacky conspiracy theories about aliens,   but only one or two of those might actually have  helpful information about the real aliens that my   character is facing. It's a signal to noise ratio.  The information that you want might be out there,   but the Skill Roll determines how well the  character can parcel that good information   out from all the useless, if not detrimental,  information that they're going to be finding.  In the Age of Deep Fakes and cheap digital  manipulation, finding reliable information   out there, even being believed if you have a  legitimate video and pictures of the supernatural,   that is going to be a difficult sell. So just  because something is out there on the internet,  

doesn't mean that it's easy to spot or easy to  distinguish the real from the fake. So yeah,   the characters can certainly Google something  on their smartphone, but the Skill Roll is still   going to be needed to figure out which  information it is should be believed.  Now if there is information that is out there, but  it's hidden behind passcodes or on secure servers,   that's when we're going to get into the realm  of Hacking. That's where we start using other   skills - hacking the police database, or an  electric company's bills in order to locate a   customer's information - that is a possibility.  The question comes down to time and difficulty.  In a Sci-Fi game like Cyberpunk, it could  probably be done in just a few seconds.  

But other games, like Traveller, take a much  more realistic approach to hacking. Meaning   that it could take hours for them to do it. Real-world hacking isn't like it's depicted in   most movies and TV shows. It's actually a pretty  slow process. So if the characters do have that   much time and they do have the skills to do it,  sure, go ahead and let them. But depending on the   game that you're playing, it might require more  time than they have in order to do it. Or it might  

require some sort of mini-adventure where they're  now dropping USB drives around parking lots,   hoping some employee is dumb enough to pick one  up and stick it in their work computer. Or they're   having to call a place, making Deception Rolls  and trying to convince somebody that they're Tech   Support and they kind of need their password. But if the Player Characters do want to hack   into a building's Mainframe and get access  to all the cameras, and the secret records,   or just let them walk right in through the front  door, then awesome. Hacking has been a Science   Fiction staple since Gibson's Neuromancer. But some Game Masters are afraid to allow   it because now the hacking Player Characters  bypassed all the obstacles and now the PCs are   gods and they're completely unstoppable.  But if that technology is part of the  

Game World, then you should let the Player  Characters have access to that technology.  So instead, focus on what it takes for the Player  Characters to do these things - How secure is this   network? Is this going to be a difficult task for  them to do? If so, how difficult of a task is this   going to be? How long is this task going to take  them to do it? The Game Master gets to determine   all of that stuff. And if you as the Game Master  anticipate this as a possibility that they might   attempt doing it, you can then make it interesting  to do once they try it. Such as, they're going to  

need multiple passwords, or a password and then  securing an authorized device or a key fob,   making it more than just simply a single roll  that bypasses the adventure, but really something   that's worked into the adventure itself. Now aside from the Internet, mobile phones   are a big problem for many Game Masters. Aside  from having the Internet, cell phones have GPS,   flashlights, and the ability to call the police  or another character for help at any location.  A tempting urge that a lot of Game Masters have  is the old "Loss of Signal" gag - something that's   becoming less and less feasible as coverage is  becoming closer and closer to being worldwide. 

So unless your game has a specific reason  why there is no signal for their cell phones,   such as maybe there's a signal jammer, or maybe  they're deep underground and they can't get a   signal there, I'm not a fan of using that they  can't have a signal unless there is some in-game   specific reason why they don't have it. It really  just frustrates the players that we're going to be   taking away their tools for no logical reason. So  instead of working against mobile technology and   trying to suppress it, simply plan for the  mobile technology and try to work with it.  Cell phones are great for letting  the Player Characters split up,   which I've talked about before as being ideal for  horror games where you want to isolate the PCs. 

And if the PCs do call the police or  somebody for help, that doesn't mean the   cavalry is going to be arriving in time.  If the PCs call the police, you can say,   "Well police are going to be there in about half  an hour, but this adventure is going to be over in   20 minutes. So the police are going to be arriving  to see however this resolved. But you got to do   something if you want to be alive at that point." And yes, while modern technology certainly gives   the characters a lot of advantages,  it comes with a lot of disadvantages   as well that you can use against them. Remember, the bad guys, they have technology   too. Theirs might even be better than the  technology that the Player Characters have.   They might be a corporation, or an advanced alien  species, or simply be well-funded. They might have  

a whole team dedicated to covering their digital  footprints and being able to stop hackers that   are trying to break into their mainframe. The PCs might get a Tracker App installed on   their phone through a virus or worm, and now that  bad guys are feeding them misinformation directly,   listening on their phones that are in their  pockets, diverting calls, and sending kill   squads out to the phone's location because  some foolish Player Character tried Googling,   "Where's the bad guy's secret hideout?" and  they got flagged with a bad guy's AI Watchdog.  The Player Character's sister, maybe they  tagged the PC on their Facebook page. Now  

the bad guy knows where their sister is,  and now she's been kidnapped or murdered   in order to get to the PC. So now the  PC's phone rings from an unknown number,   and they're getting pictures of their sister  with "Back Off" emblazoned across it. And when   the Player Character tries checking to see where  this number was that it came from, they realize   that their tech savvy enemy has spoofed one of  the other Player Character's phones, so they   have no idea where these things are coming from. Could even have a case where the Player Character,   maybe they're hiding in a room from some bad  guy, and the bad guy, they're looking for him,   they can't find him, so they simply pull out  their own cell phone and they call the Player   Character's phone, and this ringing or buzzing  that's going on in a dark corner, that gives   away the PC's position because they just got  ratted out by having their cell phone on them.  Or if the Player Characters, let's  say they do call somebody for help,   they don't necessarily know who's on the  other side of that line. That friendly 911  

operator might be in league with the bad guys. What if the PCs committed a crime? Maybe they   burned down a building. Maybe they killed a  bunch of human-looking alien monsters - but   no one knows that they were human-looking  alien monsters? So now the police,   they come in, they're investigating all these  killings and these burned down buildings,   and they discover that the PCs' GPS that's on  their phone, those were all at the scene of   the crime at the time these murders happened. So  now the Player Characters, they're being hunted   by the police because they carried their phones  on them while they were doing their adventures.  Getting away with criminal activity is going to  be a lot harder once we have modern technology   introduced to the game. We have security cameras  they might have to bypass or destroy. But not just   security cameras. There's dash cams, body cams,  doorbell cams, random onlookers armed with cell  

phone cameras, drones, DNA evidence from injuries.  Players might need to take all this stuff into   account when they're planning their jobs. If a Player Character, they end up taking a   couple points of damage while on their job,  all of a sudden they're like, "Oh my God! I   got blood on the floor," and they have to start  cleaning up the blood because their DNA is in   that. And that's now something that they have  to keep in mind. While in previous eras when   they're trying to do this - let's say maybe in  the 1920s - they had no way of identifying you   if there was blood. They didn't know specifically  that was your blood that they found on the floor. A few months back I reviewed the Traveller  adventure Islands in the Rift and in it I   shared a story how the Player Characters were on a  covert mission on a Lower Tech World - Lower tech   for them at the time, but still a Higher Tech  Level than we are - and there they ran afoul of   another group of spies who were trying to sew  unrest against the planetary government here.   So a couple of these spies tried jumping some  of the PCs in order to capture and interrogate   them, The Player Characters ended up knocking them  out and stole the bad guy's cell phones. And then  

using their highly advanced ship's computer and  their sensors, they managed to be able to hack the   cell phones to pinpoint exactly what the location  of where those cell phones had been, and which   cell phones those had been in communication with. I hadn't anticipated them doing any of this stuff.   But it was a cool plan and it worked. So I told  them that the rest of the enemy spies were in   a hotel directly next to the starport where they  were at the time. And it appeared that those enemy  

spies, they knew that somebody was on to them, so  they're scrambling and trying to evacuate and get   out of that hotel as fast as possible. Now what I didn't say in this review,   is how I was wondering what the Player Characters  were going to do here. Maybe they were going to   try to follow these bad guys, you know trying to  get them back to their secret lair - play some   sort of spy games, or something like that. But instead of doing all that stuff,   they just grabbed a bunch of guns  and they charged off to this hotel.  So I had them roll a die. If they rolled under  a target number, the bad guys escaped before the  

PCs arrived. If they rolled over the number,  they got there before the bad guys escaped.   Instead they ended up tying the roll with me. So I decided when their elevator reached the   9th or the 10th floor, and the elevator doors  opened up, they'd see the bad guy standing   right there. I was wondering what was going to  happen here. Maybe these two groups of foreign   spies that are operating on this planet, maybe  there's gonna be a silent tension - that sort of   stare down - or maybe the bad guys would get in  the elevator with them, and they'd all be riding   down - this kind of tense scene all together.  Maybe there'd be threats, the Player Characters   intimidating the bad guys to return to their  room and trying to interrogate them for answers.  But instead of any of that stuff, the moment the  Player Character saw the bad guys they just simply   attacked. They murdered him right there in the  hall. There was this big shootout. Illegal weapons  

were drawn and fired, and it was a savage fight. But the moment that that fight was over,   all of a sudden the players remembered that  there were cameras - that they're a thing that   exist around here - and the hotel was absolutely  loaded with cameras. The elevators, the hall. They   all captured everything from this. And from the  camera's point-of-view, the PCs were just a bunch   of randos that charged in this hotel and murdered  a group of guests with zero provocation at all.  So the Player Character scrambled here.  They gathered what they could and they fled. 

But they couldn't go back to their ship because  they didn't want to lead the police there. So   they ended up holding up in a seedy hotel on  the far side of town. And there their hacker,   using their very advanced computer, then  spent the next 30 hours hacking into the   hotel security and the police, deleting all  these records that they could find in order   for them not to be wanted by the law. So they managed to get away with it.   But they also never forgot that cameras  were a thing that existed after that.  So this story - this really long story - is  really just to illustrate how players can   definitely use technology to their advantage,  sending the game into directions that nobody   had anticipated. But at the same time, technology  creates a potential threat, an obstacle that the   Player Characters have to consider whenever  they're trying to do some sort of job. 

It's also pretty good deterrent for murder hobos. Once they bother to remember that   cameras are a thing that exists. Technology also becomes something   that they risk losing. That cell phone, for  example, if the Player Characters jump off a  

boat and into some water, they might ruin their  phone, or at least take it out of commission   for a while until it fully dries off. That  makes jumping into the water a risk that   the Player Characters are going to have to  consider, maybe something they try to avoid,   or something they try to prepare for in advance. Or it can be used as a cost for failure. Like   if you're using Failing Forward. Such as the  characters are being chased across some rooftops  

and they jump to the neighboring building, but  they fail that roll by 1 or 2, so you could say   how that character, they slammed into the wall  but they managed to grab onto the edge of that   neighboring building. But when they did so, they  felt this crunch in their pocket. So when they   managed to grab hold and pull themselves over for  safety on the other side of this building, that's   when they realize that their phone is toast. Or we can use technology to explain a failed roll.  So next time the Player Character, they're trying  to hide behind some crates as the bad guys are   searching a warehouse for them, but let's say  they fail their stealth check here. So instead   of saying that the characters screwed up by  making a noise or getting spotted by the bad guy,   maybe say that their phone went off in their  pocket as a scammer took that moment to call   them about their car's extended warranty. Or if they fail a roll while they're trying  

to get some surveillance footage of  the bad guys, the bad guys spot them,   not because they made a bad roll - because the  red LED light that's on the front of the camera,   the bad guy spotted that in the darkness. Or maybe they failed their roll while trying   to record some surveillance footage. Maybe say  that that was really caused by a technical glitch,   rather than any sort of fault of the character  themselves. It's not that they forgot to take   the lens cap off, or they did something stupid.  It's just their technology broke at the time,  

and that's why they didn't get that  footage that they were trying to get.  For every easy solution that  technology gives the Player Characters,   it's going to bring them one new problem. Now let's talk about some Adventure Examples   of cool ways that modern technology can be used in  games - specifically horror games here. I've done   several game reviews for Modern-Day adventures So you can check out Panacea, where we have a   mythos creature that's been hooked up to the net -  which not only engages with any hacking attempts,   but it runs the building itself. It's fully  under this creature's control, meaning that it   can lock and unlock the doors, it can watch people  through the security cameras, and can talk to the   Player Characters through the building speakers. The adventure Viral is a fantastic example of how  

social media can be employed in your game - both  assisting and manipulating the Player Characters,   as well as a different version of an entity  that's been connected to the machine.  And while I haven't reviewed this one yet, you  can see our playthrough of Intimate Encounters,   where the monster is also connected through  the internet, but it's using a dating site   in order to hunt for victims. Also, you can  see how our characters employ drones to spy   through windows - which is something that the  players introduced to that adventure and wasn't   something that the adventure had - but it can  show how we were able to use technology in a   way that the Game Master hadn't anticipated. Another one, and I haven't played this one   personally myself yet, but I wanted to show this  one, is the Call of Cthulhu adventure Hell in   Texas, were one of the initial hooks to get the  Player Characters involved in the adventure is   through a Reddit Community. Which is something  that I like, because online communities are a  

fantastic source for adventure hooks, but also a  resource among the community members - the PCs can   use those. Even a source of new Player Characters  if something happened to one of the PCs,   they could just get involved in this Reddit  community and all of a sudden another member   of that community pops up and says, "Sure, I'll  join you," and that's where we get the new PC.  A few more Modern Day horror seeds include  Receiving Phone Calls or Texts from someone   that the character knows to be dead, or they  discover later on has been dead the entire time. 

A haunted video, like in The Ring. Maybe a  viral video that shows one or more of the   Player Characters dying in this video, and now  the Player Characters have to solve their own   murder in order to prevent it from happening. Speaking of videos, there's Found Footage   stories - where the Player Characters have to  scour in order to find the source of some video   that they have, maybe verify its authenticity,  or discover a missing portion that they don't   have. Or in the case of Archive 81 - fantastic  series, by the way - the character is charged   with restoring a series of damaged tapes. They could be dealing with white noise,   or electronic voice phenomenon, where someone  or something is trying to communicate with the   Player Characters. Maybe through some  specialized equipment that they have,   or they made. Or maybe it's a broken cell  phone that somehow tuned into this signal. 

Maybe it's picking up transmissions  that they aren't supposed to hear.   Maybe somebody's going to try to stop  them from telling anybody what they hear.  Modern Technology gives us a lot of plot hooks  and tools to make some interesting stories,   and an array of obstacles that our Player  Characters have to overcome now - things   that they didn't have to overcome before. And  all of a sudden those are things that are in   their way, and they have to take into account. Once Game Masters stop dwelling on whatever it   is that they can't do anymore, now that modern  tech is involved in the story, and all the unfair   advantages the Player Characters now have. If  they take those new advantages into account,   they prepare for them before the game, even  applying those same advantages to the bad guys   now, because the bad guys might have the same if  not better technology, they can start seeing a lot   of cool potential that wasn't available to them  before - new stories and new challenges for the   Players to overcome, and we can have a lot of fun. Hey, thanks for watching. If you enjoyed  

the video, please give it a Thumbs Up. If you want to see some more about stuff,   such as Game Reviews or How To's,  just hit that Subscribe Button.  Until next time, amigos, y'all have a great day. You know, I didn't forget about no cameras in the   hotels. Just the other players, they had started  complaining about how I was always poopooing their   ideas and wouldn't let them try them out. So  when they said they wanted to charge over that   hotel with shotguns, I just kept my mouth shut  and let them do it. That's why I was doing look  

out in the lobby while they went upstairs and  started murdering all those people up on camera.  Think they learned a valuable lesson  that day, so I regret nothing.

2022-09-26 18:11

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